Here are Some of the Most Common Small Business Marketing Mistakes — Are You Guilty of Any?
Owning and operating a small business is rarely easy. The self-fulfillment and satisfaction it can bring is beyond question, but along with that comes a substantial number of challenges — limited capital often being at the top of the list. As a result, small business owners — possibly yourself included — usually wear a number of hats: head of production, accountant and, of course, marketing specialist.
Unfortunately, with all of these demands piling up, something usually has to give and all too often, that’s the marketing component. This may also be due to a lack of interest or a lack of knowledge — sometimes it’s both — and that’s unfortunate. Marketing shouldn’t be seen as a necessary evil, but rather as an investment.
Since that investment includes time that’s nearly always at a premium, it wouldn’t be surprising if you found yourself prone to either taking shortcuts or skipping initiatives that may compromise your marketing success.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common small business marketing mistakes.
Many Small Business Owners Have No Real Marketing Plan
We’re not saying that you don’t recognize the importance of marketing — most business owners do — but rather that those time demands, combined with limited capital, may cause you to approach marketing in a piecemeal, often haphazard way.
Maybe you have that ubiquitous fishbowl sitting on the front counter ready to collect business cards but do you have an actual plan in place to harvest any real value from those business cards — save for perhaps holding an occasional drawing for a freebie? Maybe you’ve even felt a little adventurous and tried your hand at Google Ads, but did you also take the necessary steps to extract maximum value from those ads, instead of just relying on the hope that your advertising will make the phone ring or pull customers through your doors?
With no cogent marketing plan in place, tracking which marketing activities are actually working and which aren’t becomes very difficult, if not impossible. There’s also no way to really judge success because there are no clearly defined goals in place — these goals themselves are key components of an effective marketing plan.
And, since most prospects only become customers after multiple touchpoints — whether they’re marketing messages or other forms of contact with the business — sporadic marketing activities are almost always less effective. There’s no marketing multiplier effect to draw upon to reach the number of touchpoints needed.
All Too Often Small Business Owners Rely on Emotion, Not Analytics
If you’re like many small business owners, you started your entrepreneurial journey by following your passion. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. After all, when you’re spending an appreciable amount of your life involved in a single pursuit, it’s important that the pursuit is something you’re really drawn to.
But, while passion can motivate, it can also cloud judgement. For some small business owners, this can translate into the notion that their business will draw from either an unrealistically large radius, or the use of marketing vehicles based on which appeal most to them — as opposed to which might be most effective — or even the belief that one or more of their product offerings will be far more in demand than it turns out to be.
Nearly every social media platform now offers easily accessed analytics that can be readily mined and there are additional platforms that can provide plenty of informative insight at a modest cost. Yet, do you regularly consult these analytics, or do you find yourself instead preferring to rely on your “gut feelings”?
Analytics may not be as alluring as passion can be, but they provide valuable insight as to who your customers really are, as well as who is showing interest in both your organic and paid content and who isn’t. When you disregard or ignore them, you’re also prone to putting your ad spend where it won’t yield — such as when you target too big a radius or overly broad psychographics or demographics.
Small Business Owners Often Don’t Even Know Who Their Ideal Customer Is
This may seem to be the same as disregarding analytics, but there are distinctions. Let’s call it an adjunct. Whereas analytics can provide a clearer picture of customer demographics, it’s up to you as the business owner to piece this information together to create customer avatars — fictional representations of your ideal customers based on the data you’ve received.
We get it — the concept of customer avatars may seem a little corny— developing and referring to fictitious people does take a bit of getting used to. But this is a concept that’s been around for a long time for a very good reason . . . it’s effective.
Creating in-depth, data-based profiles of your ideal customers better equips you as a business owner to “speak their language”, get your messaging out to where prospects will see or hear it and put your ad dollars where they’re most likely to provide the best return on investment. It sounds like a lot of work — to do it correctly really does require both time and mental focus — but the effort is worth it.
Here’s a primer that outlines the process of creating customer avatars.
All Too Often, Small Business Owners Don’t Prioritize Making Their Business Stand Out
Prospects need a reason to buy. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a logical reason, but it sure helps if it’s a thoroughly compelling one. In many cases, business owners put too much emphasis on cost to lure customers in, but that can be a mixed bag.
Low prices are often effective in drawing new customers in, but they can also create some serious challenges down the line. For starters, over time they often result in commoditization — positioning a product based on price. Low prices almost always result in low and often unsustainable margins and, in the process, they don’t create true customer affinity.
Someone can easily come along who can offer a product at a lower price — even if it’s only for the short term. In the absence of substantial financial resources, this alone can be enough to wreck many small businesses. Make no mistake — laying financial siege to the competition has been a fundamental tactic for big box stores for generations.
Developing a Unique Selling Proposition — or USP — is another long-standing fundamental of sound marketing and, all to often, it’s either ignored or minimized. As a small business owner, you are likely an ardent evangelist for it and won’t hesitate to tell others how great your product or service is. But can you tell people what sets it apart from the competition? This distinction is vital and it’s the very essence of a USP, which must not only be specific, but also succinct. If you, as the owner of your small business, can’t readily articulate its USP, it’s a good bet that your prospect base will have trouble grasping it as well.
Failing To Focus on Customer Retention
Over the years, you’ve no doubt heard countless times about how it’s much cheaper to retain an existing customer or client than it is to go out and get a new one, but it’s what you do with this knowledge that really counts.
All too often, small business owners feel that their marketing work is done once they make a sale. Some of this sentiment dovetails back to relying too much on emotion — thinking that their product or service speaks for itself. It very well may, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s any room for complacency.
Taking the steps to ensure that you have the means to effectively reach not just prospects but existing customers is essential to the continuing success of most small businesses. This is where email marketing really comes in handy, because of the convenience the platform offers when it comes to differentiating between potential and existing customers through segmentation.
After all, if your business communicates with prospects and customers in the same manner, the former group is likely to perceive your communication as being too pushy, while the latter group may feel they’re underappreciated or unacknowledged.
Remember that fishbowl we talked about earlier? It may be primitive, but it does work — albeit in a limited fashion. The problem is, you might not be leveraging the business cards that land in that fishbowl as thoroughly as you could. Drawings for free products or services are fine but approaching the names on those cards that have become actual customers with complementary offerings is even better.
Again, it’s important to not only compile an email list from those names, but to properly segment and communicate with that list.
When it comes to customer retention, content marketing can also really pay dividends. Many businesses use content marketing to establish themselves as thought leaders to attract that initial sale, but it can also be used to transform an existing customer into a bona fide brand evangelist. Existing customers may still be prone to jumping ship when they perceive a better deal somewhere else, but true brand evangelists not only tend to stick with a business, but they also tell their friends and family about it and even tend to be more forgiving of any mistakes that business might make.
Are You Putting Effort into Email Marketing (or Ignoring it Altogether)?
If so, we may be able to attribute most of this mistake to “shiny object syndrome”. There seems to be an immediate fascination that occurs with the launch of every new social media platform. Years ago, Facebook ruled the roost. Then Instagram came along, and businesses began to focus on creating more compelling visual content.
Once these two platforms began to catch on with older demographics, the collective dismay of teens and younger adults reached a fever pitch and Snapchat stepped into the fray. Then, Chinese company ByteDance saw an opportunity and launched TikTok in early 2017, which soon overtook Snapchat and now has about four times as many users.
There has been a recurring pattern with the introduction of each platform — a gradual shifting of emphasis from organic content to paid ads. Make no mistake, social media is now very much a “pay to play” medium for businesses.
Even five years ago, businesses could leverage these platforms to build big audiences organically without spending a dime. They’d just post their content, then sit back and watch as the audience seeing it grew larger with every hour. Over time, however, organic reach — on Facebook and Instagram in particular — has plummeted. By most accounts, Facebook’s organic reach now stands at about 5% and while TikTok’s is much higher, even that platform is now extolling the virtues of leveraging paid ads to maximize results.
Also, no matter how big an audience your business might amass on a social media platform, in reality that audience belongs to the platform — that is, unless your business takes the necessary steps to coax audience members on to your email list.
Meanwhile, many of us still go through our emails to start each day — even before we log on to social media.
Maybe you, like many small business owners, realize that email marketing can attract and retain customers but feel that email marketing is eventually going to be on its way out. Will email marketing actually become obsolete? After all, more than a few marketing experts have been saying that for a while now. And yet in reality, it’s not only still around, but it’s still effective.
Or, maybe you’ve tried your hand at email marketing but don’t really do all you can to entice prospects onto your email list through initial discounts or exit intent popups. Or, in the interest of saving time, you don’t communicate on a personal level with your list members, and instead choose to send the same general, non-focused email to your prospects and existing customers alike.
There’s no doubt that email marketing has become a more difficult landscape to navigate, in spite of the introduction of many automation platforms that now make building and segmenting lists and tracking results easier than ever. Consumers are leerier than ever before about giving up their email addresses, as for starters, they’re bombarded daily with both poorly focused communication and outright spam — anti-spam regulations haven’t really done all that much to curtail the latter.
Nevertheless, when you, as a small business owner, put in the effort to build your email list the right way — buying addresses never really works — and then segment and nurture that list properly, email marketing still WORKS. And, unlike social media audiences, your small business will retain control of that email list to market to in the future.
Do You Ignore Customer Feedback?
No doubt about it, social media has made it very easy for keyboard warriors to air their opinions on pretty much everything. Politics, the economy, sports . . . you name it. And, when it comes to business reviews via Yelp, Google and other platforms, there’s no shortage of vitriol. Comments like “Worst experience ever” and “avoid like the plague” are all too common.
Even at the height of the pandemic, many restaurants were hanging on by a thread and relying on takeout business to stay afloat and yet that still didn’t stop many people from doing their best to torpedo them with often unfounded criticism.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that some negative reviews aren’t thoroughly warranted and, despite the undeniable emotional attachment small business owners almost always have with their businesses, there’s often plenty of wisdom that can be gleaned from them. In fact, reputation management is a vital aspect of small business marketing.
Unpleasant as it may be, if you own a restaurant, you should want to know if a staff member has been rude to customers — it might not ever happen on your watch, but that doesn’t mean an incident was fabricated. If you own a dry-cleaning business, you should want to know if garments aren’t consistently ready when they’re promised to your customers — this might indicate a serious flaw in your operational process.
It’s understandable that you might prefer to hear from legions of satisfied customers, thanking them for their positive reviews in the process. But you should almost always respond to negative reviews as well. It’s absolutely essential to avoid emotion when doing so, as well as knowing whether you’re dealing with a rational person, or just someone looking to stir up trouble.
When legitimate issues are brought up — especially when they pertain directly to your business’s product or service, they should be acknowledged and responsibility should be taken. On the other hand, you shouldn’t let absolute falsehoods stand and they should also be addressed — albeit without emotion, as hard as that may be.
For the most part, sincere users of review platforms can tell the difference between the two and often admire it when a business responds to criticism in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
A Surprising Percentage of Small Businesses Operate Without a Website
Many business owners — especially sole practitioners — fall back on the notion that websites are no longer necessary. Whereas not all that long ago, getting a professional-looking website up and running was high up on their “to-do” list, there’s seems to be a growing sentiment that maintaining a consistent, well-positioned social media presence is now far more important, and that a business website is largely unnecessary. Sound familiar?
It may be true that business websites are no longer quite the “must haves” that they once were, but they’re still important. For starters, they confer a sense of legitimacy — social media followers may enjoy engaging with your business, yet they still often prefer to know that your business maintains an online presence beyond social media.
Websites also provide a valuable branding opportunity as well as an additional touchpoint that can prompt your prospects to take action. Sure, you can create well-constructed, perfectly formatted cover photos on social media that incorporate your chosen colors and fonts, but a website offers a greater, more comprehensive canvas.
Many prospects also want to get to know your business a little better before becoming a customer or client, so your business’s “story” can be an effective motivator. While Facebook still offers plenty of space for your business to cover this, other platforms really don’t. For example, an Instagram bio is limited to just 150 characters. That’s not much.
Landing pages — in the absence of a traditional website — can fill some of the void to facilitate conversions when your small business advertises on social media, but even then, many of your prospects will search for your website anyway. In doing so, they also often compare the overall look and feel of your landing page to that website to judge its trustworthiness — this is just one reason why branding consistency matters so much.
As a corollary, small businesses that operate well-constructed, professional looking websites are also more likely to maintain email addresses that contain a branded suffix. There’s no doubt that firstname.lastname@example.org confers more legitimacy than email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The latter two aren’t really that far removed from email@example.com. So, in reviewing this list of mistakes, how many have you committed? For that matter, are there any listed that you don’t really consider to be mistakes at all? Or perhaps there are some that you think should be added. Let us know — we’d love to hear from you.